Words by Claudia Bigongiari
All images © Michele Palazzi
Michele Palazzi (born in 1984) is the author of a documentary investigation around contemporary and social issues. Italian based in Rome, he approached photography very soon, right after high school, developing his imaginary with both analog and digital process.
His aim through photography has become to deal with the best version of reality, that can be rooted within a precise documentation or into a more creative approach that, he says, communicates better than the reality itself. These two spheres, documentary and aesthetically creative, are both fundamentals of Palazzi’s work. Here social and personal reflections intertwine around a suspended atmosphere where past and present are not defined dimensions, instead they coexist to interpret reality.
For Michele Palazzi the reality to interpret is the one of Southern European, the one that defines where his places and people’s traditions come from.
In 2016 he begins a long-term project about the identity and origin of Mediterranean culture. The first chapter, Finisterrae, takes place in what the ancient Roman called Lusitania, today’s Portugal, that the photographer explored thanks to six months of residency. Portugal today reflects the cultural and economic crisis of recent years. There is a sense of abandonment and decay where people seem stuck, alienated, myths and beliefs are the same as past generations, and the barren territory is the ‘perfect’ scenario of the end of the world (finis-terrae).
“The idea behind is to look at the common roots of Mediterranean with an horizontal view that goes across the centuries”, there is no specifics about the period of time, only a sense of suspension and continuity where “our cultural heritage is both past present and future”, where nothing wants to change and everything is a whole.
Finisterrae alternates the dramatic tones of landscapes affected by the modern industrialisation with the silent portraits that resemble the idols of our culture. There are the young forcados dressed with the ancient vest of Portuguese tradition, the veiled woman, the one who seems a beekeeper: they are mysterious, faceless figures, lost in the time in between old and new Lusitania.
This first part ended in the form of a photo book produced by Leporello and Origini publishing whose priority was to emphasise the multilayer of elements inside the project. Finisterrae’s different levels and meanings brought to alternations of materials and surfaces, all stitched together by a thin thread, representing the fragility of the story. The golden paper in the front page can be an attachment to the past and lost splendour of these great civilisations, while the translucent paper inside arises the sense of mysticism and forgotten of today’s condition. According to his author, this making with all the details could be “the only way to transpose Finisterrae in book form”.
Not yet a book but still ongoing, the second chapter on European identity starts in 2019 and this time takes place in Italy. In The Roman Garden the relationship between past and present, man and land is way more explicit than Finisterrae. He doesn’t create only an alternation but he selects the roman representations (through frescos) as the background to analyse today’s social and natural changes. The two dimensions are combined to create a non and eternal, limitless space, where the photographer aims to “visualise the layers of this evolution through time, by overlapping elements”.
Today’s nature and its state of wild abandonment face the perfect representation of Roman gardens while classical statues (marked by the passing of time) are confronted with a contemporary portrait of the human body. The modern nymphs, as Palazzi calls them, influenced by artistic references like Egon Schiele and Victorian paintings.
The photographer’s approach is more aesthetic than historic.
Aesthetics has always been an active phenomenon through ages “subject to different cultural and historical interpretations”, it affected our imaginary and identity, in The Roman Garden it represents the line to follow to be guided inside.
Among the many associations inside the Italian project, there is also one connection with the previous chapter as if the photographer wants to continue the narration from where he stopped. Into the exaltation of human body, box players come to replace the ancient figure of fighters. The boxer bleeding from his mouth, eyes closed, in The Roman Garden, creates a correspondence with the young forcados in the traditional vest stained with blood. That is voluntary: “it’s an image that I keep having in my mind for a long time, the image of a man after the battle, looking for elements to defeat. The defeat, abandonment, post-fight are key elements in my work”.
Even though the high grade of aesthetics reached with this second chapter, the same sense of decay and alienation is maintained, The Roman Garden becomes a metaphor to analyse once again the time and history effects on our places and people.
The project is still ongoing and it will probably end in a form of photo book similar to Finisterrae but it will be important to mark the aesthetic and visual differences, as representative of the different territories and approaches they investigate. For example, the contrast in colour atmosphere, dark and dramatic in the first chapter and more delicate and desaturated (as if the images are erasing like frescos) in the second. It’s hard to imagine how it will look like but it will be surely another manifesto of complexity and fascination. It’s also difficult to see the next images of what the third and last chapter of this research through Mediterranean roots will be, the only anticipation is that will be located in Greece.